Round Rock woman among those suing for right to serve in combat

Round Rock woman among those suing for right to serve in combat

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Should women be in combat? A Round Rock Air Force pilot says yes. She is taking on the Department of Defense to put an end to a policy that excludes women from fighting on the front lines.

View Lawsuit: http://www.aclu.org/womens-rights/hegar-et-al-v-panetta

Major Mary Jennings Hegar of Round Rock is the first name listed on a lawsuit against secretary of Defense Leon Panetta.

On Tuesday she joined three other women in a news conference in California.

"My gender has never been a factor in accomplishing my unit's mission and it should not be a factor when selecting personnel to serve in combat roles," Hegar said.

She is now in her 12th year as an Air Force pilot. She has scars from a 2009 incident where her aircraft was shot down by enemy fire over Afghanistan.

She was awarded the Purple Heart, the Distinguished Flying Cross with a valor device for heroism.

Read more about Major Hegar: http://www.aclu.org/womens-rights/hegar-et-al-v-panetta-plaintiffs#1

But a military policy says no matter her success, she can never take a position involving direct ground combat because she is a woman.

The ACLU is helping her and other women get the Department of Defense to end the exclusion.

"Women are in combat. They're serving confidently with valor, getting medals being heroes every day," Hegar said. "We're not coming home with stories of women who some guy died because she couldn't drag him off the battlefield. It is not happening."

Locally, FOX 7 found plenty of folks who said they want women in the front lines.

"Women have proven in combat before when they were shot down or held captive that they can hold their own," Lin Havron said.

"If they want to be in the military they need to be equal," Nina Ruiz said.

Not everyone is as supportive.

"It's just one of those things where I think complications can come, maybe can't be dealt with in a good way or cause problems," Wade Lawrence said.

FOX News interviewed a retired general who says ground combat is too much for women to handle.

"The average woman isn't as strong as strong as the average man. And it's a very physical, physical environment," Retired Marines General Mike Myatt said.

"When the Taliban had us surrounded, they didn't say everybody drop and do pushups and whoever does the most gets to go home," said Hegar.

In May, the DOD opened six positions recently closed to women.

According to a spokesperson, "The recent openings are the beginning, not the end, of a process. The services will continue to review positions and requirements to determine what additional positions may be opened to women. Our goal is to ensure that the mission is met with the best qualified and most capable people, regardless of gender."

Still, the ACLU says the exclusion policy bars women from 238,000 individual positions; or 20 percent of jobs across active duty forces.

The Department of Defense sent the following statement:

See this link to our Report to Congress, which will help with your specific questions about barriers: http://www.defense.gov/news/WISR_Report_to_Congress.pdf

As you may know, effective May 14, the co-location prohibition was rescinded, and the exceptions to policy became effective, resulting in 14,325 previously closed positions being opened. These decisions, and those that may follow, are based on valuable insight from the services, joint staff and combatant commanders, after over a decade of war.

The recent openings are the beginning, not the end, of a process. The services will continue to review positions and requirements to determine what additional positions may be opened to women. Our goal is to ensure that the mission is met with the best qualified and most capable people, regardless of gender.

Sec. Panetta directed the services to update him in November with an evaluation of the newly opened positions, on the efforts to pursue gender-neutral physical standards, any additional positions that can be opened, and an assessment of the remaining barriers to full implementation of a gender-neutral assignment policy.

We recognize that over the last decade of war, women have contributed in unprecedented ways to the military's mission. Women have put their lives on the line to defend the country and demonstrated courage, patriotism and skill. They have proven their ability to serve in an expanding number of roles on and off the battlefield, and these changes will allow them to accomplish even more.

-Eileen M. Lainez, DoD Spokeswoman, Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense

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